Although Buddhist practices virtually disappeared some centuries ago in South Asia, there are many Buddhist ruins in the land where this religion originated. Two sites, Bodh Gaya in eastern India and Bamiyan in Afghanistan, seem quite distinct in how the evidence of their pasts is valued. Bodh Gaya is lauded as the sacred site where the Buddha was enlightened, and its considerable history is blended into a timeless present. At Bamiyan the only well-known event is the recent destruction of the two gigantic Buddhas. Yet in both cases political concerns have significantly shaped the present interpretation of their ruins.
In 1768, William Aislabie purchased an estate neighbouring his own that included the ruins of Fountains Abbey, and proceeded to clear and reorganise the ruins to emphasise them as the subject of a Picturesque view. His intervention resulted in significant critical objection, but the basis of this objection shifted substantially over the ensuing decades. In the 1770s, William Gilpin's objections were founded in ideas of the ‘authentic’ Gothic ruin, a late-eighteenth-century concept based on the building's Picturesque qualities and evocation of mood; in the 1840s, John Walbran's criticism was based on a new concept of ruins derived from empirical examination that valued the original fabric of the building as documentary evidence. The changing concept of ruins exemplifies the shift in the perception of the Gothic, as antiquarian investigation transformed it from a fashionable, private mode of building that was perceived as irrational and disorderly to a principled, moral and public style.
Berlin is dotted with structures damaged by war or eroded by neglect. Since unification, several groups have appropriated such spaces for alternative cultural and social projects, intentionally displaying architectural decrepitude. Cultural centres such as the Tacheles and the Haus Schwarzenberg stand out against freshly painted façades and commercial enterprises. They react against gentrification and urban beautification, both of which have characterised Berlin's urban and architectural makeover since 1989. The display of ruination also attempts to represent a conflicted history, and is related to Germany's fraught relationship to memory. This article groups these projects, and their attitude towards decay, under the rubric of ‘counterpreservation’ and suggests that the fascinating spell of counterpreservation is inseparable from the ‘irresistible decay’ that Walter Benjamin associated with ruins. Through a close reading of the Haus Schwarzenberg building, it teases out the evocative potential of ruined spaces as they engage the embodied perception of space in unscripted, unpredictable ways.
Lahore's celebrated status as the seat of several legendary Muslim rulers and the cultural capital of Pakistan stands in sharp contrast to the dilapidated state of the city's historic Mughal monuments. This article explores the discrepancy between images that capitalise on Lahore's esteemed reputation and concerns for the deterioration of sites associated with a Muslim past. By exploring the political and aesthetic potential of ‘ruins’, this article questions the function of a discourse on failure (in this case to preserve the nation's heritage), which turns on an aesthetic of ruins and its attributes: namely nostalgia, longing and desire. Mounting concerns over the future of Pakistan's heritage can be read as reflecting anxieties around preserving and promoting regional and national identities and critiquing ineffective and exploitative leadership, but they must also be understood in the context of experimentations with and responses to modernisation, globalisation, and Pakistan's image in the ‘war on terror’.
Scholars have already examined how the avant-garde used, understood and satirised techniques of the mass media. This article examines how Schwitters engaged in a more ambitious project: an exploration of fundamentally new systems of information technology, and of the ways information was communicated, controlled, preserved and discarded. The ruin of Schwitters' lifework, the Merzbau, has been thoroughly examined; this article explores instead how Schwitters literally used the ruin and the ruined, fragments of the immediate past, trash, as his material of choice. I will argue that Schwitters' work, neither straightforwardly politically engaged nor arguably formally innovative, represents a sustained exploration of this first media age and its completely new forms of mediation: the before and after of the ephemera of our society, producing adverts, branding and packaging as a graphic designer and reasserting the same objects as trash, rubbish and the ruined in his collages and assemblages.
This article addresses the particular nature of the ruins of destroyed and abandoned buildings in the besieged Sarajevo (1992–1995) as sites of artistic interventions. The unrepeatable and impermanent nature of the ruins, subject to deterioration and further destruction, and their physical location within the Sarajevo battlefield (being permanently exposed to shelling and sniper fire) is viewed in the context of creating, installing and viewing art as well as in challenging conventional means of Bosnian art-making (artists began to use soot, ash, fragments, burned stumps, books, waste material, junk), and introducing innovative curatorial strategies. The site-specific artworks and exhibitions in damaged and destroyed buildings produce discursive spaces, based on gathering, dialogue, interaction and exchange of common experiences of existence and survival in a city devoid of basic human needs. The persistence of the artists and audience in showing their struggle and resistance to the imposed conditions defines these exhibition-related practices as catalysts of cultural resistance in Sarajevo.
Many Inka sites in western South America were abandoned in the early sixteenth century following the Spanish invasion and colonisation of the Andes. Their ruins provide a starting point from which to consider the discourse of mystery commonly enshrouding ruins today. Despite the fact that the ruination of Inka sites was witnessed and documented, and despite decades of work by scholars to understand Inka technological and cultural practices and belief systems, questions continue to be asked that, in fact, have long been answered. Yet many visitors prefer imaginative speculation and unverifiable postulations over reasoned hypotheses, and so actively work to prolong, rather than solve, the mystery of ruins. Focusing on the Inka site of Saqsaywamán, the author seeks to understand how the discourse of mystery itself, born out of the process of Spanish colonisation, still exerts a powerful influence over visitors to Inka ruins today.
In A View of the Writers' Building from the Monument at the West End (1824–1826), James Baillie Fraser depicted the memorial to the Black Hole of Calcutta in ruins before the pristine Georgian façades of the Writers' Building and Saint Andrew's Church. Erected in 1760, the monument commemorated the British citizens who suffocated in a cell after they were captured by the Nawab of Bengal in 1756. Significantly, while earlier British representations present the monument as a marker of the origins of Britain's dominion over Calcutta, Fraser's image of the memorial is far more ambiguous. In Fraser's aquatint, its representation as a picturesque ruin appears to impinge on the very status of Holwell's monument as a memorial. Situated before the buildings that symbolise Britain's power and progress in Calcutta, the decaying monument troubles the scene by recalling the fraught nature of British hegemony in a city poised to become the capital of British India.
Walid Raad produces art for his ongoing archival project, the Atlas Group, a fictional documentation of the Lebanese Civil Wars. Raad's project responds to a radical shift introduced in nineteenth-century history painting, according to Wolfgang Kemp, when the viewer becomes ‘sutured’ into the compositional and didactic structure of the work. Raad expands upon this opening up of the tradition in order to address the condition of Beirut, a modern city of ruins. Viewers are invited to become pedestrians of Beirut whose perceptions of the panorama are transmitted through a gap in comprehension. Raad positions Beirut not only as the backdrop, but as the subject of his work in order to suspend the tension between destruction and progress through the tension between reality and fiction. Raad's series of photographs Let's be honest the weather helped (1998) illustrates Kemp's notion of the ‘blank space’ for suture. This series moves towards mapping an understanding of destruction in his video work We can make rain, but no one came to ask (2003). Analysis of this montage brings out the temporal and psychological issues of processing and describing ruins as (infra)structures. An overarching thread in Raad's work is his use of fiction. The author positions the performances of his work and his imaginative categorisation of his archival material as necessary for the work to maintain a progressive impulse.
The Atlantikwall, a defence-line comprising 12,000 bunkers, was constructed along the Western European coastline (1941–1945) to protect ‘Greater Germany’ from an impending allied invasion. Designed by military architects and engineers and erected by slave labourers, the Atlantikwall can be regarded as an embodiment of nationalistic ideology, and as built evidence of Nazi war crimes. Postwar years were marked by the desire to forget, and recovery was equated with erasing the traces left behind. Nevertheless, a slow shift in appreciation towards the bunkers is taking place, as the stories that lay dormant are gradually uncovered. In recent years these ruins have begun to fascinate artists, who, while searching for the ‘forgotten’ and the ‘mystical’, encounter remnants of an abandoned buried history. The bunkers that were built in haste for a short-lived war may ironically prove to be Hitler's lasting legacy, representing the essence of the twentieth century – its barbarity.
In August 1945 the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki vanished in seconds. Due to the American Occupation censorship, visual evidence of this genocide was not to be publicly shown till 1952. This article examines the case of the first photographs taken of the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were banned from publication and ordered to be confiscated. Thanks to the risk the authors took to hide the materials, the representations of the atomic annihilation could later be revealed and open a space for memory in Japanese society after the American Occupation ended. This article seeks to examine the role of photographs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in constructing the memory of an event on the national level in Japan after 1952. It also sets out to rethink their status and previous interpretations.
The work of the American photographer Mark Morrisroe (1959–1989) has been the object of a recent resurgence of interest. Morrisroe's work might be said to constitute an extended practice of self-portraiture, from the early images documenting his involvement in the 1980s Boston punk scene to his final works exploring the effects of AIDS on his body. This article brings together Morrisroe's photographic practice of self-representation with Jacques Derrida's reading of the self-portrait as ‘ruin’. It outlines the moral, physical and aesthetic implications of ‘ruin’ in relation to Morrisroe's work, and explores the way in which both Morrisroe's images and Derrida's text evoke the physical deterioration of the body. It then suggests ways in which Derrida's ruin fulfils a similar function to the notion of performativity or masquerade, raising questions about issues of identity, authenticity and the possibility of self-representation.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.